Desperate Stratagems

​第三十一计     THIRTY ONE


The beauty trap
měi rén jì


  • Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp.
    This can take effect in three ways;

    1) the leader falls so deeply in love with the beauty that he neglects his duties and his vigilance to wanes.

    2) a group of men will be envious and have quarrels if the desired women courts another man, thus promoting aggressive behavior.

    3) other females at court, out of jealousy and envy, will start to plot intrigues which will further inflame the situation.


  • The human heart is often stronger than his brain. Attractive ladies often succeed to extract information and secrets from men by seduction.


At the time they were besieged in Pingcheng, the advisor of the emperor of Gaozu sent to the wife of the enemy commander a painting of a beautiful concubine and attached to it a note saying the emperor was going to surrender and offer the concubine to the commander.

The wife, mad with envy and fear, convinced her husband to lift the siege and return home.

​第三十二计     THIRTY TWO


Empty city strategy
kōng chéng jì


  • If the enemy's forces outnumber yours and you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretense of military preparedness. Remain calm and tease the enemy, so that he will think that you have a huge ambush prepared for him.

  • Be relaxed and carefree, as if you do not care whether or not the enemy will attack.

  • An 'all cards on the table' strategy creates uncertainty by deliberately and openly exposing your vulnerability, an act which people would normally never do. This unusual act can raise suspicions and lead to caution when otherwise a full force direct attack may take place.

  • At times of vulnerability, make your enemy think twice whether to attack you.

  • Efficient if you act calm and at ease when your enemy expects you to be tense.

  • Best to apply only if you have a strong hidden force and only sparsely use this stratagem.


Liang Zhuge of Shu was attacking Wei. The Wei commander Yi  Sima captured the small Shu town of Jieting.
Being panicked, Liang Zhuge sent soldiers to help, keeping only 2,500 of them in his capital of Xicheng.

Yi Sima left Jieting and pressed on to Xicheng with a force of 150,000 combatants, committed to capture his enemy.

Seeing them coming from afar, Liang Zhuge took down all the Shu banners, opened all four city gates and got soldiers in casual clothing to hang around and sweep the floor.

In addition, Liang sat on the edge of a high tower, playing music.

Being convinces this was an ambush, Yi Sima fled.

第三十三计     THIRTY THREE


Let the enemy's own spy sow discord in the enemy camp
fǎn jiàn jì


  • Weaken the enemy's ability to fight by secretly causing discord between him and his friends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and population.

  • Being preoccupied with internal disputes, his ability to attack or defend is compromised.

  • Discover your enemy's spies and feed them false information.

  • An executed or imprisoned spy would simply be replaced. Better to turn a captured spy into a double-spy. A managed spy could be used to influence enemy thinking and action.


During the wars between the three kingdoms, Cao Cao sent Jiang Gan as an envoy to Zhu Yu, who had been to school with Jiang Gan.

They fell asleep after feasting, but Jiang Gan secretly got up and rifled through Zhu Yu's desk, where he found a letter from two of Cao Cao's generals who were plotting to assassinate Cao Cao. Later on, the generals were beheaded.

However, the letter was a sham and in fact placed there by Zhu Yu himself.

​第三十四计     THIRTY FOUR


Inflict injury on one's self to win the enemy's trust
kǔ ròu jì


  • Two ways to apply this stratagem;

    1) the enemy is tricked into lowering his guard as he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat.
    2) get close to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.


  • Self-harm is a known method of gaining attention and sympathy.

  • Making your enemy realize you are human may lead it being more difficult for him to seek to harm you.


General Huang Gai was punished with 50 lashes for disagreeing with Zhou Yu. Angry with his punishment, the general sent a letter to Cao Cao (Zhou Yu's enemy), that he wants to defect.
Cao Cao heard about the general's punishment trough another sources as well, and thus concluded that Huang Gai must be telling the truth. He set up a meeting with him, however, Cao Cao was ambushed by Zhou Yu's troops when he arrived to the meeting point. Huang Gai had remained loyal after all.



An assassin was sent to kill the first emperor of China. The assassin had a friend the emperor disliked. In order to get close enough to kill the emperor, the assassin brought the emperor the head of his friend.

​第三十五计     THIRTY FIVE


Chain strategy
lián huán jì


  • In important an decisive battles, one should apply several stratagems simultaneously in a chain of stratagems.

  • Different stratagems should operate in an overall scheme.

  • There is a risk however that if any one strategy fails, then the chain breaks and the whole scheme fails.

  • If you plan several parallel plans carefully, then if one fails, others will still keep you going.


In 284 BC the state of Yan attacked and conquered Qi. The remaining Qi forces under the command of Tien Tan fled to the city of Ji Mo.
Tien Tan had the women line the city walls and beg for a peaceful surrender while he sent gold and treasure collected from the city's wealthiest citizens to Yan's general with a note asking that the women and children be spared in return for the peaceful surrender of the city.

The general was convinced that the city was truly surrendering and thus allowed his troops to relax their guard. After this careful preparation Tien Tan felt the time was right to launch his counter attack.

First he had the citizens of the city gather with drums and cooking pots and instructed them that on a signal they were to make as much noise as they can.

He then had breaches made along the city walls from the inside.

Next, a herd of cattle was painted in weird patterns and knives and sickles tied to their horns, and torches tied to their tails.

Just before daylight three events occurred in rapid succession;
The citizens within the city created noise that startled the sleeping Yan troops.
At the same time the torches on the tails of the cattle were lit and they were released through the breaches in the wall. The enraged animals ran madly around the Yan camp, successfully killing stunned troops with their horns and setting fire to tents with their tails.
Finally, Qi's troops rushed out from the gates to attack the now terrified and confused troops.

Tien Tan defeated the Yan army and went on to take more than seventy cities.

​第三十六计     THIRTY SIX


Escape in order to fight another day

zǒu wéi shàng cè


  • Once it becomes obvious that your current course of action is leading you towards defeat, the right thing to do is to retreat and regroup.

  • There are only three options when losing: surrender, compromise, or escape. Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, but escape is not defeat.

  • Knowing when to run away is extremely important. Leaving too late may end up in capture or death.

  • As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance. Within time, this stratagem's wording was expanded to: "Of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, fleeing is best".

  • You may lose some respect, but you will live to have a chance to fight again.

  • The goal is to win the war, and not necessarily every battle. Strategic retreat is a normal in warfare and can be used to good effect.


Liang Zhuge of Shu attempted to unify China, he made six unsuccessful assaults against the more powerful Wei.
However, thanks to retreating on time, at each battle he managed to get his soldiers out without significant loss.


History has many examples of armies who did not run away and as a result lost their war.

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